THE moment BFNL premiership rivals Sandhurst and Kangaroo Flat have had marked in their diaries since their epic one-goal encounter in April arrives this weekend.
While the term blockbuster is often overused, that is certainly not the case when it comes to the Dragons and Roos, who have produced a trio of epic encounters in their last three match-ups.
With a narrow win apiece from their only two clashes since their memorable 2019 grand final showdown, few are expecting anything but another nail-biter on Saturday at Dower Park.
Especially since the barest of margins separated the powerhouses in their earlier season contest at the QEO, won in dramatic fashion by Sandhurst.
Kangaroo Flat coach Jayden Cowling has declared his side ready and eager for action against the premiership-laden Dragons.
"We can't wait ... it's going to be a real challenge for both teams, but these tough games are what we play for," he said.
"More than anything, the girls are just excited for the challenge.
"We are not going to worry too much about the end result, it's more about getting that tough match play in.
"We know last time it was only a goal between us, so we're expecting much the same."
The Roos could not be in any better or more prolific form, having averaged 85.6 goals per game in their last five straight wins, including 118 in a single outing against Golden Square late last month and 87 in last week's 57-goal win over Eaglehawk.
"But it will be a whole different ball game on Saturday against Sandhurst, who are a great team," Cowling acknowledged.
"And a real change in intensity, like it was last time against them.
"But 60 minutes of intense netball is what we are all about and we have been preparing for that."
In a gauge of just how much the rivals have dominated the competition this season, between them, the Roos and Dragons will supply 80 per cent of the BFNL open team for next week's Association Championships in Melbourne, where Dragons stars Meg Williams, Ruby Turner, Sophie Shoebridge and Bec Smith will be joined on-court by the Roos' Chelsea Sartori, Milly Wicks and Ash and Abbey Ryan.
A RECAP OF LAST WEEK:
The Dragons seamlessly overcame the absence of star midcourter Williams and defender Turner in a 23-goal win over South Bendigo last week and are nicely positioned to defend the premiership crown they last won in 2019.
Having negotiated plenty of big battles in the past against the Roos, Dragons coach Tamara Gilchrist knows exactly what is required from her team on Saturday.
"Four consistent, flat-out match-winning quarters," she said.
"We seem to have a lull every now and then for five or so minutes and it happened the last time we played Flat - we were up by nine and we let them back in it and we only won by one.
"So we need nothing short of four consistent quarters."
The Roos' propensity to notch up big scores has not gone unnoticed, but Gilchrist will back her slick, poised and still young defence of Shoebridge, Turner and Imogen Sexton to counter a potent Roos attack, led by Lou Dupuy and Abbey Ryan.
With Kangaroo Flat boasting a league-high percentage of 216.34, Gilchrist is prioritising wins over the scoreboard.
"Depending on what happens, it could come down to percentage, so it's going to matter," she said.
"We just need to keep winning and put percentage out of the equation."
Saturday's clash at Dower Park starts at 3.20pm.
In other games, South Bendigo will be aiming to rebound from a disappointing loss to Sandhurst against Kyneton at the QEO.
The teams played out a thrilling draw earlier in the season, with the Tigers, who defeated Strathfieldsaye 54-43 last week, looking to keep their finals hopes alive.
They start the round 10 points behind fifth-placed Castlemaine, which plays Strathfieldsaye.
The Magpies will be looking to bounce back from last week's loss to Gisborne and consolidate their spot in the five.
With plenty more personnel becoming available in recent games, joint coach Gary Cooke senses a breakout performance is looming.
"We're confident the line-ups are starting to work now; the first half of the season was pretty rough for us with people away," he said.
"For us, coming back into the league, it's good now knowing what we're up against each week.
"The top five sides are all very good - it's an outstanding competition.
"Even the bottom five, there are no easy games there either."
Fresh from a season-best win over Castlemaine last week, Gisborne hosts Maryborough, which jumped from ninth to seventh by scoring its third win of the season against Golden Square.
At Wade Street, Golden Square hosts Eaglehawk, with the Bulldogs still chasing their first win and the Hawks looking for their fourth and a move up the ladder.
Gisborne hosts Maryborough, Castlemaine makes the trek to Strathfieldsaye and Golden Square and Eaglehawk clash at Wade Street.
Last three games: Sandhurst d Kangaroo Flat 52-51 (round four, 2022); Kangaroo Flat d Sandhurst 51-46 (round four, 2021); Sandhurst d Kangaroo Flat 42-35 (2019 grand final).
2022 wins: Sandhurst (12); Kangaroo Flat (11).
2022 losses: Sandhurst (0); Kangaroo Flat (1).
Points scored: Sandhurst (805); Kangaroo Flat (887).
Points against: Sandhurst (407); Kangaroo Flat (410).
BFNL open team representatives: Sandhurst (4); Kangaroo Flat (4).
Last week: Sandhurst d South Bendigo 64-41; Kangaroo Flat d Eaglehawk 87-30.
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